Iranian leaders have been fiercely critical of Saudi authorities’ handling of safety at the hajj and questioned whether Riyadh was fit to continue organizing the annual pilgrimage.
Hajj pilgrim Ethar El-Katatney, a journalist and blogger, said people were trying to push their way in opposite directions – a few headed to the site of the stoning, a few coming back from their previous ritual.
Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, a lawmaker in Pakistan’s governing PML-N political party who is leading his country’s response to the disaster, said Saudi officials gave diplomats “1,100 photos” of the dead from Mina.
“Instead of blaming this and that, the Saudis should accept the responsibility and apologise to the Muslims and the victims’ amilies”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, said.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are chief rivals in the greater Middle East. That conflict is on display in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bombing Shiite rebels there Iran has backed.
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, said at the weekend the stampede was beyond human control and that the authorities are not responsible for what had happened.
More than 300 other Iranians remain unaccounted for, including former ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, the Fars news agency reported. Iranian state media also have suggested that the death toll in the disaster was far higher, without providing any corroboration. In 1990, more than 1,400 pilgrims died in a stampede in an overcrowded tunnel – making Thursday’s incident only the second worst in recent history.
“I believe the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty”, foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said. The event during the Eid al-Adha festival, at Saudi Arabia’s Jamarat walls, is one of the main rites of the haj.
A day earlier, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani used a major United Nations speech to demand an investigation into the stampede. While concluding he said that he hope Iranian leaders are more sensible and will wait until the enquiry is completed. The Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran was also summoned to the Foreign Ministry, which conveyed Iran’s “strong protest” over the failure to protect pilgrims, the official IRNA news agency reported.